Background

A predominate story for the engineers department of British Rail during the second half of the 1980s and into the 1990s was the replacement of firstly the unfitted, and then the vacuum braked wagons used for the majority of their trains with higher speed air braked wagons of greater capacity. The engineers became quite adept at converting what they had or what they could acquire in order to modernise their fleet. The ZCA Sea Urchins converted from redundant VDA vans are one part of that story.

The 1980s saw a steady decline in the amount of general merchandise traffic carried by the railways and this ceased completely with the end of Speedlink in 1992. As a consequence a large number of vans and other wagons were surplus to requirements and disposal or alternative uses started to present themselves along with sales to the MoD for internal use.

In late 1992 a start was made in converting some 400 VDA vans (other types of air braked wagon were also converted at different times) into open ballast wagons with a reinforced box type body and an angled top. Some 300 of the wagons went to Network SouthEast and the balance to the West Coast Mainline. The conversion work was split between four contractors: ABB Transportation, Marcroft Engineering, Prorail Bombadier and RFS Doncaster and naturally there was some variation in the conversions.

The wagons used came mainly from lots 3855 and 3908 which can easily be identified by the length of their handbrake levers. The bodies themselves also show some variation with the end bracing either being flush to the top of the body (like the sides) or protruding out beyond the top of the body, there is also variation in the location of the lamp iron.

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